Nov 10, 2001
By HANK KURZ Jr.
AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Billy McMullen caught the ball, saw two defenders closing in and saw Alvin Pearman with a path to the end zone.
It was just what he had hoped to see.
Pearman took a lateral from McMullen and ran 27 yards for the winning score with 22 seconds left, completing a crazy play that put a fitting end to Virginia’s wild 39-38 victory over No. 20 Georgia Tech on Saturday.
“It wasn’t pretty,” McMullen said. “I got hit as I was getting rid of it. It was more like a chest pass, really.”
Pearman had to crouch low to catch it, but then had clear sailing.
“One way or another,” he said. “It wasn’t pretty, but we got the touchdown, and that’s all that matters. He could have kicked it to me.”
The teams combined for seven touchdowns in the fourth quarter, trading the lead with each score, and the winner was huge. It snapped a five-game losing streak for Virginia and putting excitement back in the season.
“I don’t think it’s hit me what we just did out there,” said Spinner, a redshirt sophomore who threw for 327 yards and five touchdowns. “I think later on it’s going to hit a whole lot of guys what we just did.”
With a first-and-10 from the Yellow Jackets 37, Spinner hit McMullen on the right side. As two Yellow Jackets converged on him, Pearman ran up, caught the clumsily shoveled ball and the fleet freshman was home free.
Virginia (4-6, 3-5 ACC) was outgained 560-461, but with Spinner matching George Godsey play for play, a season that still includes No. 23 Virginia Tech and resurgent Penn State no longer looks quite so lost.
The Yellow Jackets (6-3, 3-3), seeking their first victory here since they stunned then-No. 1 Virginia in 1990, got burned again by playing shootout football with a team that was finally hitting its stride.
“I’m disappointed with the way we played defensively and with special teams on that one play,” said coach George O’Leary, referring to Tavon Mason’s 100-yard kickoff return midway through the fourth quarter.
The play produced the third of seven lead changes in the quarter, and set a Virginia record for the longest kickoff return in school history.
Godsey finished 39-for-55 for 486 yards and one touchdown, with the completions and yards setting school records. He also ran for two touchdowns in the first half as the Yellow Jackets went ahead 20-7.
“We threw the ball well. We just couldn’t stop anybody,” O’Leary said.
The Cavaliers trailed 20-7 after Godsey’s second scoring run on the next-to-last play of the half, but then Spinner got untracked, using both his arm and some well-timed scrambles to get the Cavaliers back in it.
First he drove the team 70 yards in 10 plays, running 21 yards on a third-and-4 and finishing it off with a 14-yard pass to McMullen.
Then, on the first series of the fourth quarter, he drove them 79 yards, hitting Patrick Estes for 21 yards on third-and-2, running for 21 more on the next play and finding McMullen from nine yards for the score.
It was only the beginning.
Godsey drove the Yellow Jackets 80 yards in nine plays, including a 33-yarder to Kerry Watkins on third-and-2. Joe Burns ran it in from the 1, and it was 26-21 after Burns’ 2-point conversion run came up short.
The failure was the first of six missed 2-point tries in a row.
Mason took the ensuing kickoff at his goal line, cut toward the middle and then to the right sidelines, pointing his finger toward the end zone and never stopping on his way there, making it 27-26 Virginia.
Godsey came right back, driving 80 yards, capped by Sean Gregory’s 18-yard run that gave Georgia Tech a 32-27 lead with 5:55 left.
Spinner’s turn, and he took the Cavaliers 65 yards, scoring on a 7-yard pass to Tyree Foreman that put the Cavaliers up 33-32.
Godsey responded with a 36-yard touchdown pass to Kerry Watkins that gave the Yellow Jackets a 38-33 advantage with 1:45 to play.
It also set up the final drive for Virginia, with Spinner running three yards on third-and-1 from his own 29, a pass interference call allowing the cavaliers to convert on third-and-10, and the winner.
“This was a magnificent college football game,” said Virginia coach Al Groh, whose predecessor, George Welsh, was honored at halftime.
Spinner was 32-for-46 for 327 yards and one interception. McMullen caught 10 passes for 98 yards and two scores with the assist on a third.
Will Glover led the Yellow Jackets with 13 catches for 172 yards, both career highs, and Watkins caught nine for 161 yards and a TD.